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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


)
ELOUISE PEPION COBELL et al., )
No. 1:96CV01285 (RCL)
Plaintiffs,
v.
)
)
)
)
) GALE A. NORTON, Secretary of
the Interior, et al.,
Defendants.
)
)
)
)
INTERIOR DEFENDANTS� NOTICE OF OBJECTIONS TO
PLAINTIFFS� PROPOSED NOTICE TO THE CLASS OF PLAINTIFFS� PETITION
FOR INTERIM FEES UNDER THE EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE ACT
In response to this Court�s Memorandum Opinion and Order, dated July 12, 2005,
Plaintiffs submitted a filing setting forth the proposed content and means of
giving notice to the
Cobell class members concerning class counsel�s pending petition for an interim
award of
attorney fees pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act. See Notice of
Plaintiffs' Proposed
Notice to the Class of Plaintiffs' Petition for Interim Fees under the Equal
Access to Justice Act
(July 18, 2005) (�Plffs.� Notice�). Defendants respectfully object to Plaintiffs�
proposal, because
it is wholly inadequate in terms of content, distribution and timing. Defendants
request that the
Court modify the notice as proposed and order Plaintiffs to make the following
changes to the
notice: (1) the notice must be disseminated more broadly than by a single Internet
posting,
preferably, through newspaper advertisements published throughout Indian country;
(2) the
notice must afford class members at least sixty (60) days to see the notice and
respond to or
comment upon the fee petition; and (3) the text of the notice must be revised in
three areas: (I)
argumentative assertions should be removed, (ii) a simple means for obtaining
copies of the fee
petition and the government�s opposition should be provided, and (iii) class
counsel�s contact
number should be clearly identified as toll free.
In its Memorandum Opinion of July 12, 2005, the Court expressly recognized class
counsel�s obligation under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(h) to notify class
members of its
pending motion for an interim award of attorneys fees under the Equal Access to
Justice Act.
The Court noted the important purposes behind such notice to class members and,
quoting the
Advisory Committee, observed that fee awards �are a powerful influence on the way
attorneys
initiate, develop, and conclude class actions.� Mem. Op. at 29-30 (internal
quotation marks
omitted). The Court also stated, again quoting the Advisory Committee, that
�members of the
class have an interest in the arrangements for payment of class counsel whether
that payment
comes from the class fund or is made directly by another party[.]� Id. at 30
(internal quotation
marks omitted). As the Court recognized, the aim of the notice rule is to provide
�the class with
sufficient information to question objectionable fee requests and to scrutinize
any potential
conflicts of interest that arise from certain payment scenarios.� Id. Plaintiffs�
proposal, however,
falls far short of this goal.
Defendants are not aware that Plaintiffs have done anything thus far to
communicate their
fee request to class members. Although Plaintiffs regularly publish all manner of
material on
their website, Plaintiffs have chosen not to publish their fee request on their
website, even though
their motion for a fee award, filed August 14, 2004, is almost a year old. Having
apparently
done nothing to date, even informally, to inform class members of their fee
petition, Plaintiffs
now propose that their notice merely be posted as a message on their website,
without any further
dissemination or promotion. Plaintiffs also propose an unreasonably small window �
barely two
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weeks (until August 17, 2005) � during which class members who have seen the web
posting can
retrieve a copy of the fee petition and submit comments on it to the Court. This
proposed
scheme is wholly inadequate to satisfy the important purpose that lies behind the
notice
requirement.
Although Plaintiffs only propose publishing their class notice on their Internet
website,
class counsel has previously represented to this Court that the Internet is not an
adequate vehicle
for communicating with the represented class. Just last October, during a hearing
regarding the
class communications order, Plaintiffs� lead counsel told this Court:
Your Honor, what we've also learned from the recent few weeks of dealing with
our clients with regard to the notice issues that we've [sic] wrestling with is
that
very few of the them have access to the Internet, very few of them have computers.
I will also tell Your Honor that very few of them have voice mail, so
communications and actual communications sometimes can be a challenge. Also,
very few of them have money, so long distance telephone calls are actually quite
expensive to them, and are quite meaningful to them, and for those with whom we
are communicating effectively, Your Honor, it requires many of them to drive
distances to get to a facility with a fax machine or electronic means, or
something where they can provide us that.
Hearing at 7-8 (Oct 19, 2004) (emphasis added). If class counsel�s statements to
the Court are
accepted as true, then it necessarily follows that mere website publication would
be an
inadequate means of notice to this class.
In their submission, Plaintiffs also tender meager excuses for not contacting
class
members more directly. First, they claim that this Court has ruled out mail
distribution of the fee
award notice. Plffs.� Notice at 1-2. That assertion, though, is simply incorrect.
The Court did
decide against including the Plaintiffs� fee notice with other written notice that
it has ordered
Interior to give class members, but this was because the Court deemed the two
matters �
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attorneys� fees and the information given out by Defendants � to be �not at all
germane� to one
another. Mem. Op. at 30. The Court, however, did not rule out mailing or any other
method of
distribution for Plaintiffs� notice. Instead, the Court ordered Plaintiffs to
propose a dissemination
plan. See id. (�The Court will, however, order that plaintiffs� counsel submit . .
. a proposal for
distributing that notice to class members.�)
Plaintiffs next contend that Defendants cannot identify all account holders and
have
�grossly mismanaged� Indian lands. They then make a leap of logic from these
purported facts
to say that class counsel should be relieved of the obligation to contact members
of their class.
Plffs.� Notice at 2-3. Plaintiffs ignore the fact that Defendants regularly issue
tens of thousands
of checks to IIM account holders and these individuals are highly likely to be
class members
whose mailing addresses are known. Plaintiffs� argument also ignores the fact that
many IIM
account holders can be reached through local media � including newspapers � in the
Indian
communities where many class members reside. Plaintiffs have no ready explanation
for why
they should not make an affirmative effort to contact a substantial and
identifiable portion of the
class� membership.
Finally, Plaintiffs point out that they are seeking payment of fees from the
government
through the Equal Access to Justice Act (�EAJA�), contending by way of implication
that class
members do not really need to know about their interim fee request. Plaintiffs
expressly note that
class members have �no pecuniary interest in the award� and might actually
�benefit directly�
from a high EAJA award because this interim award �may well be deducted from any
final fee
award made pursuant to the �common fund doctrine.�� Id. at 3. These justifications
for
abridging their duty to inform the class run counter to this Court�s unequivocal
recognition that
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class members must be made aware of �arrangements for payment of class counsel
whether that
payment comes from the class fund or is made directly by another party,� and that
Rule 23(h)
does not draw such distinctions with respect to the notice requirement.1 Id. at 30
(internal
quotation marks omitted)(emphasis added).
Defendants submit that Plaintiffs -- in addition to posting the notice prominently
at the
top of the home page on their website -- should also be required to give some form
of written
notice to the class members. The fee award notice rule, Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(h)(1),
requires notice
be given �in a reasonable manner,� and it is appropriate to consider what
standards have been
employed for class notice in other contexts. In class action damages cases, for
example, class
representatives are required to give the �best notice practicable under the
circumstances,� Fed. R.
Civ. P. 23(c)(2)(B), which in most instances means direct contact by first-class
mail. See, e.g,
Peters v. Nat�l R.R. Passenger Corp., 966 F.2d 1483, 1486 (D.C. Cir. 1992)
(�beyond dispute
that notice by first class mail ordinarily satisfies rule 23(c)(2)'s
requirement�). Defendants do
not suggest that Plaintiffs should be made to send letters to several hundred
thousand class
members about their fee request, but they should be required to give meaningful
notice to a
substantial portion of the class. Publication on their website alone is not
sufficient notice.
Defendants propose that Plaintiffs should also be required to render the class
notice
through local newspapers in addition to the website notice. The advertisements
should be full
page and placed with publications on Indian reservations and in areas with
significant Indian
populations. The advertisements should run at least twice over a two or three week
period. This
1/ Plaintiffs� reliance on a �common fund� contention also overlooks the reality
that there is no
�common fund� when, as here, Plaintiffs are seeking only injunctive relief.
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is the reasonable effort required for a class notice, and it should not be unduly
expensive.2
Another material defect in the notice is the brief comment period that class
counsel
proposes to afford to the class. The proposed period would give interested class
members
virtually no time at all to ask questions or express concerns. Without
explanation, Plaintiffs
propose August 17, 2005, as the cut-off date for comments by class members, which
would be
barely two weeks after publication. See Plffs.� Notice at 4. Class members should
be given no
less than sixty (60) days to submit comments to the Court concerning class
counsel�s fee petition.
It could reasonably take a few weeks for class members to become aware of the
notice, a few
weeks more to obtain and review a copy of the fee petition itself, and still
another few weeks to
write and submit comments on the petition. The Court should act here to ensure
that the notice
gives a meaningful opportunity to the class for comment, which Defendants submit
should be at
least a sixty-day period, following final publication of the notice.
Finally, Defendants urge the Court to order three other changes in the wording of
the
proposed notice. The second paragraph of the proposed notice now begins, �Based on
these
significant court victories and because the government has acted in bad faith . .
. .,� class counsel
has petitioned for an award of fees. Plffs.� Notice at 4. The second half of this
introductory
clause � �and because the government has acted in bad faith� � should be deleted.
The �bad
faith� assertion is made generally without reference to any facts that Plaintiffs
have alleged.
Moreover, although bad faith in the litigation has been argued by Plaintiffs as a
reason justifying
2/ As a point of comparison, the Department of Interior recently ran full page ads
in 51
newspapers to fulfill a notice requirement under the American Indian Probate
Reform Act of
2004, Pub. L. 108-374. The publication cost of these advertisements was less than
$45,000. See
Exhibit A (attached hereto) (AIPRA Media Buy spreadsheet and cover note).
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their fee award, their contention has been disputed by Defendants and remains
unresolved. The
reference is a gratuitous misstatement that should not be included in a notice to
the class.
Second, Plaintiffs� notice should be a clear guide to class members on how to
obtain
access to all additional information relevant to the pending fee award. The
proposed notice
appropriately discloses to class members that they can obtain a copy of the fee
petition on-line by
clicking on a link at Plaintiffs� website. Plffs.� Notice at 5. The notice,
however, should also tell
class members that they can obtain a copy of the fee petition by a telephone
request to class
counsel. The notice should further disclose that the government has opposed the
fee petition and
inform interested class members that they can obtain a copy of the government�s
opposition
through the same means as the fee petition itself, either by visiting Plaintiffs�
website or by a
telephone request to class counsel. This approach will ensure that class members
are fully
informed of the circumstances concerning the pending fee award.
Third, Plaintiffs� proposed notice includes a telephone number with an �866� area
code
that people may not readily recognize as being a toll-free line. The notice should
make this fact
clear, so that interested class members will be aware that they can contact class
counsel by
telephone free of long distance charges. Class counsel has previously stated to
the Court that
�very few� class members have money, �so long distance telephone calls are
actually quite
expensive to them, and are quite meaningful to them.� Hearing at 8 (Oct. 19,
2004). Given this
representation, the notice to the class should inform class members that the
listed number is toll
free.
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CONCLUSION
For the foregoing reasons, the Court should modify Plaintiffs� proposed notice to
the
class concerning Plaintiffs� petition for interim fees and direct that Plaintiffs
make revisions to
the proposed notice and distribution plan in accordance with Defendants� requested
changes.
Respectfully submitted, Date: July 25, 2005
ROBERT D. McCALLUM, Jr.
Associate Attorney General
PETER D. KEISLER
Assistant Attorney General
STUART E. SCHIFFER
Deputy Assistant Attorney General
J. CHRISTOPHER KOHN
Director
/s/ Michael J. Quinn
ROBERT E. KIRSCHMAN, Jr.
(D.C. Bar No. 406635)
Assistant Director
MICHAEL J. QUINN
(D.C. Bar No. 401376)
Trial Attorney
Commercial Litigation Branch
Civil Division
Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 875
Ben Franklin Station
Washington, D.C. 20044-0875
Phone (202) 616-0328
Fax (202) 514-9163
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CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
I hereby certify that, on July 25, 2005 the foregoing Interior Defendants' Notice
of Objections
to Plaintiffs' Proposed Notice to the Class of Plaintiffs' Petition for Interim
Fees under the Equal
Access to Justice Act was served by Electronic Case Filing, and on the following
who is not
registered for Electronic Case Filing, by facsimile:
Earl Old Person (Pro se)
Blackfeet Tribe
P.O. Box 850
Browning, MT 59417
Fax (406) 338-7530
/s/ Kevin P. Kingston
Kevin P. Kingston
Native Print
Tobl National Publications: 2
Regional Print
Eastern Woodlands
Native Print
Rains
SDUlhem ULeOrum ((bi.wWf)
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I April t TOTAL I ExtendadCosr.
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IS
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r
April . { fOTAL
4 1; 18 251 Inser$
Ilste
Rs4r W FGII
WEN.
724.50 I CO $
1,200 : co $
Wended
cors
724.50 NIA
57.50
71a.75 4,000, 51 TOTAL PUBLICATIONS: